BUTCHER: Eco-Terrorism Deserves No Defense


Danielle Butcher Contributor
Font Size:

In recent weeks, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning, has been accused of engaging in “eco-terrorism” during her college days.

Allegedly, Stone-Manning was involved with a group of environmental activists who engaged in “tree-spiking,” hammering metal rods or nails into trees with the aim to ruin logging equipment, in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest. Late last week, her nomination was advanced out of committee by a party-line vote.

While Senate Democrats claim there is no evidence Stone-Manning was involved – despite the fact that she later testified against two of the accused in exchange for immunity – this opens up a conversation about what means are necessary to achieve environmental protection ends.

“Eco-terrorism” is defined as “​​violence carried out to further environmentalist ends,” meaning that performative activists use violent tactics to prove a point about an environmental cause or stop an act – logging in Stone-Manning’s case – from happening. In the years since its inception in 1977, eco-terrorism from self-proclaimed environmental activists has begun to gain traction.

Acts of eco-terrorism have caused more than $100 million in damages in the United States alone. In 2002, the FBI testified in front of a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee regarding the domestic threat of eco-terrorism from groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF).

Perhaps the most prominent example of eco-terrorism in the United States happened in 1998 when members of the ELF set three buildings and four ski-lifts ablaze at Colorado’s Vail Mountain Ski Resort. The activists claimed the act was in defense of the lynx and its loss of habitat in the area. The incident caused $12 million in damages. Importantly, the resort later won a court case against environmental groups regarding lynx habitat.

Put simply, there is no excuse for any act of eco-terrorism, nor the defense of those acts. Environmental progress will not come at the hands of arsonists; it will come at the hands of those willing to work toward actionable solutions for environmental challenges that we face. As environmentalists, we have an obligation to loudly denounce eco-terrorism.

Unfortunately, not everyone believes that violence cannot be the path forward for environmentalists. Recently,  New York Times columnist Andrew Ezra Klein made a case in support of the eco-terrorism tactics put forth in Andrea Malm’s 2021 book titled “How to Blow up a Pipeline.”

Klein’s opinion piece is titled “It Seems Odd We Would Just Let the World Burn,” so one would assume that fire and brimstone wouldn’t be his first choices for environmental action. To the contrary, Klein takes to endorsing numerous ideas found in Malm’s book, including a passage that essentially says destroying property is okay if that property emits carbon.

It is irresponsible for anyone to prop up the outlandish ideas espoused by eco-terrorists, especially at a time when more than ever, members of both major political parties are in favor of sensible environmental solutions. As conservatives continue to become more engaged in these issues, re-alienating them by endorsing tactics that would endanger the lives of everyday Americans working in industries such as forestry and agriculture cannot be an option.

Instead, we should encourage activists to advocate for real solutions and actionable policy, not to blow up a local food processing plant or vandalize trees set to be logged. Resorting to eco-terrorism to fight environmental stagnation is equivilant to fighting fire with fire. If people are told destruction is our only hope, we cannot expect them to focus on meaningful climate action proposals or believe that they are effective.

The environmental movement cannot reserve space for eco-terrorists, just as we cannot afford to entertain climate deniers. The time is now for real environmental progress, not performative, dangerous activism.

Danielle Butcher is the executive vice president at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).